How to Rezone Property

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 What Is Zoning?

In simple terms, zoning determines what types of buildings can be placed in specific designated areas. In legal terms, zoning ordinances are written rules which regulate how property can be used, when that property is located in a specific location. Zoning laws are intended for land use regulation similar to planning laws, and generally consist of:

  • A zoning ordinance that specifies the regulations applicable to each zone; and
  • A zoning map that indicates the zone characteristics of each parcel of land within the community.

Zones may be regulated in terms of use, height, and land coverage. Importantly, within each district or zone, the applicable restrictions should be uniform across the district or zone. The purpose of uniformity is to promote fairness between property owners and reduce the likelihood of future zoning issues.

Locations within a zone are commonly defined by either geographic location or specific coordinates on a map. Generally speaking, zoning locations are limited to areas within cities and counties. This means that the local government for the city or county can limit and regulate what activities are performed within its jurisdiction. It is important to note that State and Federal governments do not typically engage in land regulations.

The following is a list of the most common types of zones that are associated with land use regulations:

  • Use Districts: Examples of common use districts include residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural. Use districts may be further subdivided according to the intensity of the permitted use.
    • For example, residential use districts are generally divided along a continuum, from the single-family dwelling units to the high rise apartment(s);
  • Height Districts: Building height regulation is one of the oldest forms of zoning regulations. A community may set different height limits for different parts of town, which may or may not coincide with use and bulk districts and the location of businesses;
  • Land Coverage: There are numerous examples of land coverage and bulk regulations. The following list is the most common coverage limitations:
    • Minimum floor space;
    • Minimum lot size;
    • Floor-area ratio;
    • Open space; and
    • Cluster.
  • Floating Zones: A zoning ordinance may permit a specific type of use, but then not include it within any of the districts that are actually shown on the zoning map.
    • Such a use or zone “floats” until it is then applied to a specific parcel of land; and
  • Holding Zones: A community may be unprepared to comprehensively zone its entire area immediately upon creation. As such, in order to restrict development in an area before there has been an opportunity to zone and plan it, the planning board may temporarily zone the land for low intensity uses.

It is important to note that an individual may be able to change the zoning of a property in some cases. However, successfully challenging the zoning of a property is not always guaranteed. As such, it is important to understand all of the zoning regulations in place for your property.

Is Challenging a Zoning Ordinance Different from a Rezoning Request?

In short, yes. The main difference between a rezoning request and challenging a zoning ordinance, is that challenging a zoning ordinance requires going to court and demonstrating that the ordinance directly and adversely affects a property or neighborhood. However, a rezoning request can simply be made to the planning or zoning departments.

The planning or zoning departments are the ones who make decisions regarding variances, conditional use permits, or other issues that may implicate a zoning or land use ordinance. Generally, the department will have a public hearing where the individuals or groups whose land is affected will be able to present their arguments as to whether or not the zoning or land use ordinances should move forward. After that, any decision made by a zoning department will be subject to review by a court.

How Do I Make a Rezoning Request?

As mentioned above, the exact process for making a rezoning request will be dependent on the rules of the local jurisdiction. Generally, an individual will need to make a rezoning request. If the local rules of the jurisdiction require a person to make a rezoning change, they will have the option of requesting a variance, conditional use, and non-conforming use request.

In order to begin a rezoning request, a landowner will usually go to their local government’s zoning commission who handles the change requests. The landowner will then typically complete and return an application for the request and if necessary be given a date for a hearing in front of the board.

Then, the zoning commission will review the application to determine how the request affects any neighboring properties, and make a decision. If the rezoning request is granted, the process ends. If the rezoning request is not granted, then the landowner may appeal the decision through their local court with jurisdiction over property matters.

How Long Will the Process to Complete My Rezoning Request Take?

Once again, the exact process to complete a rezoning request will be dependent on the rules of the locality. However, typically the property rezoning process will take up to 180 days from the time the landowner’s application is submitted to the date the request is either approved or denied.

What Is the Chance of My Rezoning Request Being Approved?

Once again, it cannot be overstated that each rezoning request is unique, and the rules and persons that govern whether or not a rezoning request will be approved differ by locality. As such, it is difficult to predict whether any request will ultimately be approved, other than asking the group in charge of the decision directly prior to making the request.

Typically, the chance that the request will be approved largely depends on:

  • How the property will ultimately be used;
  • Whether or not the use of property will interfere with other people’s use of their property in the area; and
  • If there are any similar future plans for any surrounding properties.

There are some cases in which a person may also wish to apply to the relevant governing body in order to have the zoning laws amended. For example, redefining zoning boundaries or changing a specific area from residential to commercial. Similar to variances, the applicant must show a need for the change, and that the change will not adversely affect the surrounding area or master plan as a whole.

How Much Does It Cost to Rezone a Property?

Rezoning property costs will be dependent on the exact rules and fees that are set forth by the locality. Typically, in order for a landowner to rezone property, they will need to go to their local planning office and ask for an application to petition for rezoning.

After they submit their application, they will also need to pay a fee based on the size of the property that they wish to rezone. Examples of fees for a petition for rezoning can be $1,000 for less than an acre to more than $5,000 for properties that are 25 acres or more.

Can I Rezone Commercial Property to Residential?

In short, yes. As mentioned above, there are numerous different types of zoning requests. There are many reasons as to why a landowner may want to rezone a commercial property to residential.

For example, in the right area, commercial property sites are often great candidates for residential housing, such as apartments or condominiums. This is mostly due to the surrounding amenities that are available near commercial property.

Should I Obtain Help Getting My Property Rezoned?

As can be seen, successfully getting a property rezoned is often a complex process that requires a thorough understanding of the zoning rules for the locality in which the property is located. As such, if you are planning on acquiring a property to rezone, or already have a property that you would like to be rezoned, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced real estate lawyer.

An experienced real estate lawyer will be able to help guide you through the rezoning process, as well as answer any questions you may have regarding current planning and zoning rules. Finally, an attorney will also be able to assist you in court, should an appeal of a zoning decision be needed.


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